Today we welcome fine artist/teacher and novelist Laura Azzi to Write from the Inside Out. Laura lives in Raleigh, NC, and is extremely active in Wonderland Book Club, a monthly gathering of the NC Writers’ Network Wake County members. Today we’re featuring her review of Clifford Garstang’s novel in stories, What the Zhang Boys Know. Garstang was our February Wonderland Book Club selection. You’ll read more of Laura’s engaging reviews in the coming weeks—Enjoy!
Clifford Garstang’s What the Zhang Boys Know (published by Press 53) is an imaginative novel told in short stories about the inhabitants of Nanking Mansion condominiums in Chinatown, Washington, DC. Garstang’s wonderful prose weaves an intense storyline as each short story shifts the spotlight from character to character, condominium to condominium. Each character’s life is very real and engaging, often funny and dark in nature. Garstang navigates you through the moving and often distressing tragedy of complicated lives creating a thread that ties all the condominium inhabitants together.
I particularly liked the short stories “Hungry” and “The Replacement Wife.” In “Hungry,” the story navigates us through waves of disappointment for Claudia as she tries to land a job with status; her bills rise with no money for food, leading her to sell her possessions. Her only hope is her estranged sister, Daphne, whom she knows has the funds to lend her but…it’s complicated.. Told with dry wit, Claudia contemplates suicide rather than ask Daphne for money. I found unexpected delight when she reaches an epiphany in her darkest hour.
In “The Replacement Wife,” a distraught Jessica faces not just the turmoil of her impending hysterectomy but the drama of keeping a secret on the cusp of her engagement to Feng-qi or Mr. Zhang, a widower who is the father of the Zhang boys. Knowing she is replacing Feng-qi’s beloved dead wife, she questions her need for security in the absence of true love and communication. Feeling estranged and secondary in the household, she moves forward with the wedding while ever slipping into another world of existence. In the next story, “The Shrine to His Ancestors,” we learn about her on-going affair with the writer, Nathan, who also lives in Nanking Mansion, which causes her beliefs to unravel.
Each chapter of this book is a short story that goes deep into the lives of this building’s inhabitants. These stories are not a light walk through life but rather thought-provoking and often life changing narratives that are both personal and universal. Garstang allows the reader to find their own truth through fictional truth and in doing so, I believe the reader will find a morsel of themselves within each story.
Laura Azzi is a professional artist (watercolor and pen & ink) who teaches at NC State. With her diverse background in biology, medical research and business, Laura is always up for learning new things. She lives in Raleigh, NC, is an active member of the North Carolina Writers’ Network, and is working on her first novel about a dog, called Jacks.